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constitutes genius, he is far more qualified to present to the public the aggregate result of his various labors.
We shall not discuss his volume of “Biographical and Critical Essays,” as we here treat of him only as the greatest historian America has produced, and one who is fully equal to sustain an honorable comparison with his European brethren. We predict that when he chooses a more extended survey of the biography of the human family he will not be found wanting.
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT.
THERE is a calm classical dignity about Mr. Bryant's muse, which in the eyes of many is considered as an equivalent for that fire and energy which is so fascinating to the lovers of poetry. The tone of his productions is elevated, but not stirring. We assent to his reflections : we do not feel with him. There is nothing rapid and breathless in his flights: they are equable and sustained. There is an air of Grecian elegance about his writings, which convinces us he never abandons himself to the impulses of the Pythoness. At times, this amounts to a severity which chills his readers, and impresses them with the idea that he is moralizing in verse, and not throwing off the rushing thoughts that crowd his brain in the first bold snatches of sound. There is more of the cultivation of the poet than of the nature or instinct ; indeed, occasionally, the determination to compose is painfully apparent; it seems the effort of his will, and not a revelation of his hidden spirit.
It is not, however, for the reader or the critic to deter
mine in what shape or manner a poet is to write. We ought to allow thankfully the gifted one to develope himself according to his own taste. There would be an end to individuality if we were to insist upon an author's putting himself into this or that character. We cheerfully admit that the man of mind ought to choose his own circle to discourse in ; nevertheless, there is implanted in every reader's breast, however faintly, a predisposition for the more exciting kinds of composition, more especially in its poetical spirit. This constitutes the cause of that popularity which ever and anon attends an author who seizes vigorously on the most salient points of human attention. This was pre-eminently the case with Byron. Every being has a certain love of the romantic implanted in him, which at once responds to the poet's appeal. It is the sound of à trumpet to the war-horse. Who ever heard military music without feeling somewhat of the soldier's spirit roused within, however apparently peacefully-disposed and gentle in everyday life?
What Mr. Bryant gains as a philosopher, he loses as a poet. Not that a poet should not be a philosopher, for indeed he cannot be one without, but because he makes the secondary the ascendant. Poetry includes philosophy, but it should be hidden by the poetical glow, as the color of blooming health hides the white skin of the fair maiden's cheek. This substitution of the lower for the higher faculty is very apparent in the fine poem called the “ Ages.” This is the longest and most ambitious of Mr. Bryant's attempts. The subject is admirably fitted for the display of power. What can be more susceptible of poetical thought and expression than a rapid review of the history of the world? The theme is a half-inspiration of itself. Mr. Bryant, however, looks with the eye of a philosopher on the varying phases of humanity, and although we read with an attentive pleasure, we do not feel that delight which we know the subject is so admirably calculated to afford. We miss those vigorous, golden passages, which compel us to pause, and read again out of the mere enthusiasm of admiration.
We quote a few stanzas as illustrations of the manner in which our poet treats the scenes presented to his imagination.
The first we offer is a very striking one :
“ Look on this beautiful world, and read the truth
In her fair page; see, every season brings
The restless surge. Eternal Love doth keep
The critic will observe a very awkward “ doth keep.” A poet of Mr. Bryant's great powers of versification should not have sat down under this verbal defect, small as it is. We are more exacting from him, because he is one of the few American poets who have attained a classical polish.
The opening to the panorama of the past is admirably introduced :
“Sit at the feet of history—through the night
“ Then waited not the murderer for the night,
But smote his brother down in the bright day,
And slew his babes. The sick, untended then,
The poet very felicitously alludes to the dark ages of history, where so great a gap of annals exists—when even tradition dies into silence—and oblivion would be complete were it not for the mouldering ruins of unknown cities.
6 Those ages have no memory-but they left
A record in the desert-columns strown
Of heaven's sweet air, nor foot of man dares tread